Bodies Inside of Dreams

Dr. Claire Colombo has served on the seminary’s adjunct faculty since 2012.  As a freelance educational consultant, she develops religion curriculum for Loyola Press of Chicago and is a regular contributor to their Finding Godmagazines and newsletters.

It’s been a wordy month. It began with the Christmas season—the Word made flesh and all that. Then came a flurry of words to meet some professional deadlines. And then came an invitation to take myself, in the flesh, to one of those wordy events you see listed in the Happenings column of the Chronicle and proceed to ignore. In this case, it was a launch party for a new literary journal in town. Not only would I attend it, the invitation went, but would I write some words about it, too?

I would. I had already planned to attend another wordfest—a reading by poet Naomi Shihab Nye—so I promised to blog about them both.

Alas. The two events had about as much in common as a twelfth-century Latin mass and a nineteenth-century tent revival. The launch party for The Austin Review was a snazzy affair at a famous foundation, catered by local eateries and teeming with young, talented, urban-literary types. The poetry reading, on the other hand, was Keep Austin Weird at its best: a cozy gathering at a feminist bookstore, fueled by a fruit tray and some “value” wine and populated by graying locals in sensible shoes.

These events almost belonged in separate Happenings columns. Almost. Because, as I believe and was reminded, all things hold together in the Word, and Austin literary events are no exception.

What really surprised me was the fleshiness of it all.

For example: The body of keynote reader Derek C. Brown, former paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne, seemed out of place at a literary launch. But once he began speaking his story, riding its words, his body took a different kind of flight. It became something weightless, translucent, unbound—but also intensely present, intensely perceptible. Concentrated. Not superhuman, just more.

And then there was Naomi Shihab Nye, daughter of Palestine (lost) and the Texas hill country (found). In person, she was the model of grace: warm, open, and unassuming, just like your favorite neighbor. But as she entered the space of a poem—on its invisible verge—her flesh became inflected. It grew saturated with itself, like clay on a wheel, malleable and molded. It became the very matter of the lands she mourns and loves.

Most surprising of all were the bodies who came to hear the poets’ words. As groups (the hip and the hippie) they couldn’t have been more different. But when they stopped talking and started listening, their disparities dropped away. They became less accidental and more essential. They cradled their plastic wine cups at the same precarious tilt, in the same precarious self-forgetting. Their faces took flight. Their faces were thrown like clay.

“Some people put their entire bodies inside a dream,” said Nye. She named Martin Luther King Jr. as an example. But she was also speaking of herself, and she was speaking of Derek C. Brown. She was speaking of people at literary events and at Latin masses and at tent meetings, people who are more than what they wear or where they are, thirsty people who place their entire bodies, their very flesh, inside the promise of a word.

She was saying what church tries to say, and sometimes does. She was reminding us that Incarnation isn’t a one-way street. It isn’t only about Word made flesh. It’s about our flesh, which we sometimes call the body of Christ, being surrendered back into perilous words, into the stuff of the dream we’re calling to and calling true.

What words will you give your flesh to speak today?